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Kansas City Musician Returns To Jazz Clubs After A Pandemic Year Of At-Home Gigs

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Mark Lowrey surveys the room at Cafe Trio where he has resumed performing live after getting vaccinated and spending months streaming performances from his apartment.

Stuck at home during the pandemic, Mark Lowrey streamed performances of an at-home happy hour called Jazz and Plants. Now, he's back for live performances.

Last March, with venues closed, musician Mark Lowrey started playing his keyboard as many as six times a week — from his one-bedroom apartment in downtown Kansas City.

“It was a very small apartment,” he said. “And I don’t even remember how I got the idea to stream, I was lucky to do it early on. But, as it turned out, the only attractive looking wall in my apartment was where I had a few plants.”

Lowrey called the online series Jazz and Plants, with plants as a backdrop, streaming performances on Facebook Live — more than 140, to date.

“So it’s been a little weird,” he said. “That being said, it’s a hundred percent worth it. I’ve really enjoyed doing it. It’s just different, you know?”

Mark Lowrey
These plants had a front-row seat to Lowrey's performances in his one-bedroom apartment in September.

Before the pandemic, Lowrey was booked across the week. Solo piano or jazz trio at Café Trio, the Phoenix, and the Majestic. Playing wedding receptions or corporate events with the party band Lost Wax. And the occasional Sunday church service.

“I was gainfully employed back then,” he joked.

When that was put on hold, online performances kept his musical skills sharp. He took a dizzying variety of requests from listeners — from movie music to pop songs to jazz standards. Plus, he interacted with people, just not in person.

“A lot of my gigs (pre-pandemic) were in jazz clubs and restaurants, you know, and not necessarily a concert setting. So, in a way, I’m used to being ignored at some capacity,” he said. “And so the fact that somebody is tuning in to a live stream, you have the assumption that, that they're giving you a significant amount of attention.”

Lowrey added, “So, it's like you're supposed to be playing like you're in a concert, but you don't know who's looking back at you and you're not getting that actual tangible energy flow between the audience and the performer.”

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Mark Lowrey's hands flow over the keys of his Baldwin piano Wednesday (April 15) during the evening dining hours at Cafe Trio.

Last month, Lowrey swapped his keyboard at home for a baby grand piano in clubs — after more than a year of not playing in-person shows.

Now that he’s vaccinated, he felt ready to go back, although he said he was nervous, at first, to return for his first gig on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Café Trio at 4558 Main St.

“Because, aside from a few private events that I played, I was like, do I still know how to do this?” But he said he walked in the door at Cafe Trio, where he'd played for years, saw familiar faces, and knew that he could do it.

His jazz trio also started performing in April from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays at Pierpont’s at Union Station.

“Everybody's just so happy to be there,” he said, “and even the guests are like, ‘Hey, live music.’ I really hope that the novelty doesn’t go away quickly.”

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
CDs from the Mark Lowrey Trio decorate the top of Lowry's piano near the tip jar inside Cafe Trio where Lowry has resumed performing solo.

Lowrey said he feels grateful that “the city doesn’t seem to have taken a giant hit” since many of the jazz clubs are still in business and able to hire performers. But, going forward, he plans to cut back on some commitments.

“When you step away from something, you kind of realize what about it might be what you love about it and what might not be the best for you,” he said. “So maybe instead of just saying yes to everything, I'll try to use some more wisdom in my taking gig decisions, you know?”

Lowrey and his girlfriend, Heather Searls, moved into a house last fall and combined their stuff — including their plants. It’s been a few weeks since he hosted a Jazz and Plants session, but he’ll continue to live stream on Facebook and, when he reaches 1,000 subscribers, on YouTube. He knows that not everyone is ready to return to venues indoors.

“I plan on continuing in some capacity,” he said, “especially for some of my elderly friends and people that live out of state.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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